By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
ROCKFORD – Championship banners line side-by-side an entire wall of the sizable gymnasium at Rockford High School.
Overlooking center court is a banner for gymnastics championships – and a lonely number 89, signifying the year of the school’s only MHSAA Finals title in the sport.
“My freshman year. … Just looking up at all those, (I was) thinking how cool it would be to have a year I was here be on that banner,” Rockford junior Morgan Korf said.
“There’s always room for more.”
She’s absolutely right – and she and her teammates did their parts Friday to give 1989 some company.
Rockford/Sparta broke 37 points in three of four events and finished with a score of 147.975 to edge reigning champion Canton by 1.750 and claim its first MHSAA gymnastics title since winning the Lower Peninsula championship 26 years ago. (The peninsulas competed in separate Finals until 2004.)
The Rams had finished fourth in 2013, but missed the Finals as a team last season.
They returned as a Regional champion Friday and led reigning champion Canton by 2.450 points heading into the final rotation – with the Chiefs on their strongest apparatus, vault, and Rockford/Sparta on its weakest, uneven parallel bars.
Staying to pre-meet plan, the Rams threw skills they’d tried rarely this season – and scored the meet’s highest bars score, 36.300. Canton scored 37.000 on the vault, enough to cut the deficit but not completely.
“We just wanted to close it up, and we were all trying to stay confident so we could finish it off and do our best,” Rockford/Sparta junior Madi Myers said. “We were a little bit nervous, but we pulled it off.”
Myers did a routine she’d fallen on the other time she’d attempted it this winter. This time, she scored a 9.400, the third highest in the event Friday. Sophomore Nicole Coughlin completed a bail for the first time, and the addition of that skill helped her put up a 9.200.
“I’ve seen (Canton) vault multiple times, and I admire their vaults. It was really tight,” Rockford/Sparta coach Allison Tran said.
“My husband Michael Tran is our bars coach, and he’s been working all year on up skills with them. Bars is what really set us apart. Because if we had our average bars score and Canton did really well on vault, it would’ve been a dead heat right there.”
But this Rockford/Sparta team enjoyed a few advantages coming in.
The Rams finally were healthy. Myers – a Regional Division 1 champion two years ago as a freshman – didn’t compete in the MHSAA Finals the last two seasons because of injuries. Her all-around score of 37.825 Friday was the meet’s third highest.
Her abilities at the top added to depth that allowed Allison Tran the opportunity to do some maneuvering, especially with Coughlin’s sister Carly, often the team’s third-highest scorer, unable to compete all-around after being injured in the Regional.
Nine gymnasts contributed to the Rams’ score, with Korf scoring 37.800 all-around and Nicole Coughlin 36.575. Junior Ally Case and sophomore Katie Killinger scored 9.250 and 9.200, respectively, on beam, to highlight the many additional contributions.
“The thing that’s setting our team apart is that we really have depth all the way to number six this year,” Tran said. “So we had to not compete a person who could put up a 9.000. That’s really the difference. Our roster just goes on and on with people that can work into that group.”
Canton coach John Cunningham also had to dig into his talented roster as the Chiefs attempted to add to last season’s first-ever MHSAA Finals title.
They competed Friday without two of their best, including top 2014 all-around scorer Jocelyn Moraw, who was injured midseason and remains in a boot cast.
Still, Canton scored the second-best to Rockford/Sparta in all four events, and senior Allison Kunz posted the day’s second-highest all-around score, 38.075.
“We had a good meet, and we needed a great meet to win,” Cunningham said. “My last vault was 9.725, I looked over and said, ‘We can’t win.’ … Because (Rockford/Sparta) really did well.
“My senior Allison had a great meet, did really well on all four events. Across the board, I was proud of every single girl. … We were where we deserved to be.”
The finish was Canton’s fifth straight among the meet’s top two – the Chiefs previously finished runner-up to Grand Ledge from 2011-13.
The Comets were perhaps the biggest surprise of Friday’s Final. They advanced as the top fourth-place Regional finisher, and with only two gymnasts with significant experience prior to this winter.
One is junior Rachel Hogan, last season’s Division 1 individual runner-up. She scored a Team Final-best 38.225 all-around score, and two others broke 34 points as the Comets jumped to third in the final standings at 141.750.
“Way above my expectations,” Grand Ledge coach Duane Haring said. “This team is so young. We put a couple kids out there today; one has four months of experience. She did two events for us. Another one, a year. So the team is so young and so inexperienced; this just blows me away.”
Howell also broke 140 points, at 140.900, to finish fourth and improve from ninth in 2014.
PHOTOS: (Top) Rockford/Sparta’s Madi Myers performs her floor exercise routine Friday, scoring 9.500. (Middle) Canton’s Katie Dickson contributed a 9.125 bars routine, her team’s second best on the apparatus. (Below) Grand Ledge’s Tiana Seville prepares to vault; she scored a 9.300 in the event. (Photos by John Johnson.)
The addition of two games to basketball regular-season schedules and a new series of wrestling weight classes are likely the most noticeable Winter 2022-23 changes as an estimated 65,000 athletes statewide take part in 13 sports for which the Michigan High School Athletic Association sponsors postseason tournaments.
Girls gymnastics and boys ice hockey teams were able to begin practice Oct. 31, with the rest of those sports beginning in November – including also girls and boys basketball, girls and boys bowling, girls competitive cheer, girls and boys skiing, Upper Peninsula girls and boys and Lower Peninsula boys swimming & diving, and girls and boys wrestling.
A variety of changes are in effect for winter sports this season, including a several that will be noteworthy and noticeable to teams and spectators alike.
Basketball remains the most-participated winter sport for MHSAA member schools with 33,000 athletes taking part last season, and for the first time, basketball teams may play up to 22 regular-season games. This increase from the previous 20-game schedule allows more games for teams at every high school level – varsity, junior varsity and freshman.
Another significant change has been made in wrestling, as the majority of boys wrestling weight classes have been adjusted for this season in anticipation of a national change coming in 2023-24. The updated boys weight classes are 106, 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 144, 150, 157, 165, 175, 190, 215 and 285 pounds. Only 215 and 285 remain from the previous lineup. There is also one change to girls weight classes, with the 255 class replaced by 235 to also align with national high school standards.
A series of notable changes will affect how competition takes place at the MHSAA Tournament levels. In hockey, in addition to a new classification process that spread cooperative and single-school programs evenly throughout the three playoff divisions, the MHSAA Tournament will employ two changes. The Michigan Power Ratings (MPR) will be used to seed the entire Regional round, not just the top two teams, and prior to the start of Semifinals, a seeding committee will reseed the remaining four teams in each division with the top seed in each then facing the No. 4 seed, and the No. 2 seed facing No. 3.
Bowling also will see an MHSAA Tournament change, as the Team Regional format will mirror the long-standing Team Final with teams playing eight Baker games and two regular games at both levels. And as also applied during the fall girls season, there is a new qualification process for divers seeking to advance to Lower Peninsula Boys Swimming & Diving Finals. In each of the three divisions, each Regional will be guaranteed 10 qualifiers for the Finals, with six more “floating” qualifier entries to be distributed to the Regionals that have one of the previous year’s top six returning Finals divers in their fields. If a team changes division from the previous season, any floating top-six spots are added to the six already allowed in the school’s new division.
A gymnastics rules change provides an opportunity for additional scoring during the floor exercise. A dance passage requirement was added in place of the former dance series requirement to encourage creativity and a more artistic use of dance. The dance passage requires gymnasts to include two Group 1 elements – one a leap with legs in cross or side split position, the other a superior element.
In competitive cheer, the penalty for going over the time limit in each round was adjusted to one penalty point for every second over the time limit, not to exceed 15 points. The new time limit rule is more lenient than the past penalty, which subtracted points based on ranges of time over the limit.
The 2022-23 Winter campaign culminates with postseason tournaments, as the championship schedule begins with the Upper Peninsula Girls & Boys Swimming & Diving Finals on Feb. 18 and wraps up with the Boys Basketball Finals on March 25. Here is a complete list of winter tournament dates:
Districts – March 6, 8, 10
Regionals – March 13, 15
Quarterfinals – March 21
Semifinals – March 23-24
Finals – March 25
Districts – Feb. 27, March 1, 3
Regionals – March 7, 9
Quarterfinals – March 14
Semifinals – March 16-17
Finals – March 18
Regionals – Feb. 24-25
Finals – March 3-4
District – Feb. 17-18
Regionals – Feb. 25
Finals – March 2-3
Regionals – March 4
Finals – March 10-11
Regionals – Feb. 20-March 1
Quarterfinals – March 4
Semifinals – March 9-10
Finals – March 11
Regionals – Feb. 13-17
Finals – Feb. 27
Swimming & Diving
Upper Peninsula Girls/Boys Finals – Feb. 18
Lower Peninsula Boys Diving Regionals – March 2
Lower Peninsula Boys Finals – March 10-11
Wrestling – Team
Districts – Feb. 8-9
Regionals – Feb. 15
Finals – Feb. 24-25
Wrestling – Individual
Districts – Feb. 11
Regionals – Feb. 18
Finals – March 3-4
The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,500 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.3 million spectators each year.